It wasn’t the result he wanted but John Herdman was pretty happy about how Canada finished the Cyprus Cup women’s soccer tournament.
Diana Matheson and Sophie Schmidt scored second-half goals as Canada rallied for a 2-1 win over Ireland to secure fifth place. It marked the first time in six years the Canadians hadn’t reached the tournament final, but Herdman was encouraged by how his team dealt with that adversity.
“The team showed a real resilience and that second-half performance was just phenomenal,” he said. “This is a very unique group of women, when the chips are down they really can pull it out of the bag.
“You think they’re out and then they come back and keep fighting but I thought the second half wasn’t just about fight. They played just some wonderful football. The Irish were on the rocks for 45 minutes and we knew it was just a matter of time.”
Ireland opened the scoring early in the first half before Matheson tied it at the 56-minute mark. Schmidt highlighted a wild finish, scoring at the 90-minute mark.
Canada, ranked seventh in the world, has traditionally fared well in this event. The national team won the tournament three times and was a finalist the last two years.
But that streak ended with a 2-0 loss to England on Monday. And considering all the Canadians needed to advance was a draw, Herdman admitted the defeat was a bitter pill to swallow.
“Absolutely,” he said. “In previous tournaments we dodged the bullet of having England or France in our qualifying group and when we ended up (with England) in our group, we knew that was the game that was going to make the difference.
“Getting the girls up for this one was tough because we were pretty devastated. But we tried to focus on this being a World Cup and just losing the final game in our group but still having qualified with another game to play and what strategies we’d have to put in place to get things pulled around and in focus. It was a pretty good two days for our team.”
Despite the fifth-place finish, Herdman said the Canadian team learned many valuable lessons at the tournament.
“We struggled, and I’ll tell you why we did against the English and Irish defensive tactics,” Herdman said. “The English held a really deep defensive block and hit us on the counter-attack, they just preyed on our sloppy play and within seconds were firing shots or crosses and I think that was the real learning this year.
“Against a zone or 4-4-2 we did well, we did well against Italy’s 3-5-2 but against that deep 4-5-1 block, which is also what the Irish did, we struggled. But what was exciting about that last game was we were able to get hold of a tactic and the players really made a big push.”
The 2014 and ‘15 seasons are big ones for Canadian women’s soccer.
In August, the world under-20 tournament will be held in four cities — Edmonton, Moncton, Montreal and Toronto. Then in 2015, Canada will host the women’s World Cup with games in Edmonton, Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
And following Canada’s stirring bronze medal victory at the 2012 London Summer Games, there will be plenty of expectations on the national team’s shoulders in 2015. That fact certainly isn’t lost on Herdman, who said the squad has a definite plan in place.
“It’s always been said Canadians are great in the power phase, they’re good at defending and they’re good at the counter-attack,” he said. “But the ability to control and develop possession through the thirds of the pitch, that’s the strand that’s been missing.
“We’ve put a massive amount of focus in that and at times it has been to our detriment. We could’ve went into the England game and said, ‘Look, we’ll drop a deep block, we’ll launch it from the ’keeper every time we get it because the only focus is about winning the tournament,’ but we didn’t. We played our way.”
Herdman said playing their way meant a definite eye to the future and not just another solid Cyprus Cup showing.
“If we were going to win the tournament, we were going to win it a certain way that would also help us be more successful against teams in the women’s World Cup playing a brand these girls wanted to be recognized for,” Herdman said. “Even after we went up 2-1 against the Irish, the girls were still doing things trying to play a certain style of football where normally you’d try to kill a game off.
“At this stage of our development I think that’s okay but when it comes down to the World Cup, we’ll be in a stage where we know how to play those games like we did at the Olympics.”
So for Herdman, his measurement for success at the Cyprus Cup goes way beyond wins and losses.
“I think we definitely got better, our statistics were way better than they’ve ever been,” he said. “There are things we wanted to work on post-Olympics to get the team ready for 2015 and those have improved.
“It’s just now chemistry and understanding when we play our way how that fits against the models of other teams. We’ve got a year-and-a-half to figure all that out and get the plans ready.”